Education

Four Kentucky teachers briefed members of the state senate education committee Thursday morning on their experiences of teaching amid the pandemic and civil unrest. They described continued challenges with access to technology and basic resources for families, but also some unexpected silver linings.

Fayette County elementary school teacher Donnie Piercy said inequities in technology access were problems for students long before the pandemic. He expressed concern about whether some of the tech resources districts have made available to low-income families will remain in place post-pandemic.

“Are we really going to take those Wi-Fi routers from families that have been depending on them for the last ten months, and that’s the first time they’ve had solid connectivity in their home?” he said.

From Taylor County High School, social studies teacher Casey Young told lawmakers that despite the many challenges of remote learning, it has forced him to communicate with families more than ever before.

“I have communicated with more parents, and parents have communicated more with me during these last couple months than I’ve probably done in my entire 11 year career,” he said.

From Rowan County Schools, special education teacher Allison Slone said she has also seen some upsides to remote learning, as she is able to spend more time individually with her students.

“In the school setting I had to work around every single teacher’s schedule…and sometimes I was lucky to find 15 minutes to try to help a student learn how to read during the day,” she said. “Now I can spend an hour or more with them or whenever I choose to spend time with them.”

Young said he believes students need a consistent model for learning, rather than switching between in-person and remote, as many districts have done.

“It hurts our students, and their ability to learn,” he said.

For Angela Clay, a social studies teacher at the DuBois Academy in Jefferson County Public Schools, the challenge of teaching through police killings of Black people, and civil unrest has been one of the biggest challenges. DuBois Academy serves mostly Black boys, and other boys of color.

“On March 13th when we went out for [remote learning], no one could have told me that the city of Louisville would have lived through Breonna Taylor. I wasn’t prepared to teach through George Floyd, I wasn’t prepared to teach through Rayshard Brooks, and I wasn’t prepared today to teach through the breech on our Capitol,” she said.

But Clay said she believes teachers are rising to the challenge.

“Because in the end, we want to promote democracy, and we are stewards of helping the next generation understand our democratic principles and civic virtue,” she said.

In an email to educators Thursday morning, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason Glass said educators should cover Wednesday’s storming of the capitol by Pro-Trump extremists. But they should do so in an age-appropriate way, with a plan, verifiable facts and a safe space for emotional responses.

“Public schools have a critical civic responsibility to prepare students, which means also preparing them to understand and work to resolve the kinds of complex and messy problems citizens ultimately must decide in the United States,” he wrote.

 “Schools that fail to engage students on difficult (and often political) issues – whether willfully or through negligence – also fail in their responsibility to cultivate our nation’s future.”

Lawmakers did not take up any bills in committee, but they did discuss the possibility of creating a permanent virtual academy for students in the future. It is unclear whether that would be run at the state or local level.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.